Ever since she was a little girl, Esther Williams had grown up in the water. She spent most of her time either swimming in the public pools or was down at the beach. Not only did she train to swim, but she also worked at pools in order to support the cost to swim. Her job was counting wet towels for five cents a day and swam on her lunch break. By the time she was a teenager, Ms. Williams was a part of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and had won three national championships.
After being hired as a replacement in a Aquacade show, partnered with Olympic swimmer and star of “Tarzan”, Johnny Weissmuller, she was spotted by one of MGM Studios talent scouts. At 18, Ms. Williams filmed her screen test at MGM Studios. Her screen test was not to display her swimming talents, however, but of her chemistry and her photogenic looks with other actors. And what better way to test her chemistry than kissing Clark Gable? In an interview with Brett Leveridge, in an association with Barnes and Noble, Ms. Williams revealed that when Gable first came onto set, his wife Carole Lombard was with him. After one look at Ms. Williams, the actor turned to Lombard and said, “I told you I was going to kiss a real mermaid today.”
In one interview, Ms. Williams was quoted saying, “I always felt that if I made a movie, it would be one movie; I didn’t see how they could make 26 swimming movies.”
But they did. Her films were in a genre all their own often referred to as the “Aquamusical.” Simply put, the Aquamusical was a Broadway/Busby Berkeley styled musical set, well, in the water with Esther Williams as the star. The studios pushed Ms. Williams to swim hard and perform stunts that were physically impossible but with Ms. Williams athletic grace and sparkling personality, she made them look easy.
By 1956, friction had been created by Williams and MGM Studios when she began refusing to do pictures that she felt wasn’t in the best interest of her and her talent. She left her contract after almost 20 years of MGM Studios being her home and shortly retired from acting in the 1960s.
But in her retirement, Ms. Williams still has a devotion to swimming, providing retro swimwear that come in the classic patterns and shapes of the swimsuit she wore in films, as well as swimming pools and pool accessories.
In 1999, Ms. Williams released her memoir titled, “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.” It was revealing book about her many highs and lows of her life. Today, Ms. Williams continues her love and devotion to swimming by being the representing brand for swimwear .In 2010, at the first TCM Film Festival held in Los Angeles, California, Esther Williams made a special guest appearance to introduce her film “Neptune’s Daughter”.
On June 6, 2013, Ms. Williams passed away at the age of 91. She will be greatly missed.